Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In Search Of Canon

WOTC's November 19, 2013 release of the re-mastered Original Dungeons and Dragons white box has been on my mind of late. 

Two books, which some consider so-called OD&D canon, were casualties in that release, having never made the final cut: Chainmail and Swords & Spells.  Tis a shame, since Chainmail germinated, and provided the original mass and heroic combat rules to, Dungeons and Dragons, and Swords & Spells was the progeny of Chainmail, filling the same role in OD&D, in updated fashion.

It may be that Chainmail's omission from the re-mastered release resulted from lingering doubts over copyright ownership.  But that rejection hardly seems plausible in the case of Swords & Spells, coming after the original LBB's and first four supplements, and undeniably a property of Gygax and TSR. 

Few would argue S&S is as useful as Chainmail, or, for that matter, the other supplements that were included in the re-master and release.  Still, the omission of both Chainmail and S&S reminds me of the scene from The Da Vinci Code, where, at the Council Of Nicea, the Christians debate and resolve which of the theological positions and gospels will be included in the Bible.  S&S should have been included, despite its lesser popularity and questionable rules-heft, if, for nothing else, historical value.

I'm no slave to so-called canon, of course.  I consider most any publication released during that initial blossoming of role-playing creativity a worthy addition to the game, just as I see modern attempts to graft to and restyle the original and reimagined rule-sets laudable. 

But there is, you must admit, something particularly charming and magical about the earliest D&D-esque publications, unstructured and divergent and un-self conscious.  Publications like the Arduin Grimoires.  Or the Little Soldier Games booklets. 

LSG's 1977 The Book Of Sorcery, authored by Dan Bress and Ed Konstant, was one of several non-canon OD&D sources that were whole-heartedly adopted as canon, at least among the role-players with whom I was acquainted. 

In the modern nomenclature, The BOS would be styled as fluff, rather than crunch, since BOS was rules-light, but flavour and idea-heavy.  There were rules, like the one below, enumerating the consequences of mis-cast spells, but much of The BOS was like the passage above, providing interesting flavour to the dangerous art of spell casting.

The early days of D&D were punctuated by the promotion of all manner of magical items and role-playing approaches.  The BOS pitched its own brand of magic item creation, as evidenced by the following passages, for communing instruments, rings of invisibility and enchanted swords.

I liked The BOS, Arduin Grimoires, and other non-canon D&D books as much for the art as the text.  Even now, I find the art in The BOS particularly creepy, and because it was by artists other than those in the TSR stable, the art brought a different esthetic to our game.

The BOS, and it's sister book, the Book Of Demons, contained quite a few images of demons and undead in unlikely situations and poses.  That art fostered a rather grim mood and lent itself to gritty, horror-filled D&D games.

One of the features of those old, non-canon D&D books was their similar shape and binding to that of the TSR publications.  The Arduin Grimoires and Little Soldier Games books were the same size as the TSR books, and fit conveniently within the White Box.  All the more reason to use all of them in your D&D games.
It's encouraging to see WOTC's issuance of re-mastered copies of the original D&D books, despite the regrettable absence of Chainmail and S&S.  And doubly encouraging is the recent, parallel re-publication of some of the non-canon third-party materials.  Hopefully modern and nostalgic gamers will discover those third-party materials and incorporate them into their re-discovery of Original D&D.


David Smith said...

Thanks for a great post. Even though I started in '76, I had never heard of LSG. Awesome stuff. Do you know if it can still be had (short of Ebay)?

The Grey Elf said...

Okay, now I need to track these down and get my hands on copies. Unfortunately I suspect they'll cost an arm and a leg and I'm soon to take a huge paycut at my new job :(

Timothy Brannan said...

I used to have the "Fantasy Gamer's Compendium" combined 6 of LSG books into one. But I'll damned if I can find it now.

Moist Oinka said...

"And doubly encouraging is the recent, parallel
re-publication of some of the non-canon
third-party materials."